The Senator representing Rivers Southeast Senatorial District, Magnus Ngei Abe, an indigene of Bera-Ogoni in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, was Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG) between 2007 and 2011 when the Transportation Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, was Rivers State Governor. In this interview with our Bureau Chief in Port Harcourt, BISI OLANIYI, the lawyer, who was a governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State in 2015, says he is not an over-ambitious politician and he describes Rivers Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as a very smart politician, among other issues. Excerpts:
How will you describe the crisis rocking the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
The sum total of the interview by Senator Andrew Uchendu (of Rivers East Senatorial District, also of APC) was to paint me as a politician with inordinate ambition, determined to pursue his personal quest for office at all costs; that I have no credibility, broke my his words; that I refused to help build the APC in Rivers State; that I did not support Rotimi Amaechi in 2007, but rather appeared when victory was achieved to claim the position of SSG; that I am an ingrate who has been given more than I deserve; that the South-South zonal visit of the APC confirmed that there was no crisis in the party in Rivers State.
My initial reaction was disbelief. I could not believe that Chief Uchendu was responsible for the concoctions. I waited for the fiery disclaimer that I was certain would follow, but the deafening silence that followed led to the sad conclusion that the words and comments in the interview represented the views of my colleague (Senator Uchendu).
Throughout this period, I have been very guarded in my public comments, believing that in a disagreement of this nature between close friends, it is better to leave certain things unsaid, no matter the provocation. I have never believed or hoped that the disagreement between us would be permanent. Therefore, while we could say a lot of unprintable things about one another in private, maturity and common sense demand that we avoid taking our dirty linen to the market place. We all have enough of such linen and at the end of the day, we would all return to the same market place where we have washed them. There will be no winner.
Whatever our differences are today, I had enjoyed a very robust and mutually-beneficial relationship with Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and I honestly do not see what our disagreement is about, to make it so spiteful and hate-filled. It was for that reason that I held my peace and allowed the public narrative that the Hon. Minister of Transportation asked myself and Dr. Dakuku Peterside (Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, who was the governorship candidate of the APC in Rivers State during the 2015 election) to stop running for governor and first build the party to stand, even though we all know that, that story is not only false, but it is one that paints me in very poor light as an over ambitious politician, which I am not.
Are you sure you are not an over ambitious politician?
One sure way of predicting what a man will do in the future is to look back at what he did in the past. In 2003, when we were all in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), my friend, Senator Lee Meaba (an Ogoni) was given the Rivers South East senatorial district’s ticket by the party in rather controversial circumstances. I not only accepted the result but I followed Senator Lee Meaba to all the seven LGAs in the senatorial district (Khana, Gokana, Tai, Eleme, Andoni, Opobo/Nkoro and Oyigbo) to campaign for him. In 2015, when I was not given the APC’s governorship ticket, I equally followed my brother, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, and I campaigned. So, my actions in the past do not qualify me for the toga with which I am now being clothed.
The truth of the matter is that the Hon. Minister of Transportation, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, drove to my residence in Abuja on December 29, 2016, a few weeks after the rerun elections, for what I initially thought was a normal visit. My entire family received him with much joy. After some chitchats, he asked to speak with me in the presence of my wife. We both sat down, he then disclosed that the real reason he came was that he had heard from two very important Nigerians that I am interested in running for governor of Rivers State in 2019, and he came to warn me not dare it. He said: “Do not try it. I am warning you in front of your wife, so that tomorrow, you will not say that I did not warn you. I am a fighter and I will fight you with everything. I will report you to the President. In any case, I set up the party’s (APC’s) structure. I set it up for Dakuku Peterside and so, you cannot win any primary election within the APC in Rivers State.” He went further to disclose that even Peterside is going nowhere this time, because “I am going to take the structure back from him and I will bring Tonye Cole as the candidate.”
What was your reaction when Transportation Minister said you should not dare to vie as Rivers governor in 2019?
I told him that no one had started running yet because it was not yet time, but I pleaded with my friend (Amaechi) to give everyone, including me and Dr. Peterside, a chance and he said no. He further stated that Dr. Peterside was out and he could not consider me because I did not support Dr. Peterside in 2015. I was shocked to hear that, because it was clear to me that this was a new narrative that was being constructed to justify his present position and I told the transportation minister there and then that those who are saying I did not support the party in 2015 will answer to God. I also told him that I had not taken a decision on the matter, but anywhere I go and anyone says I will be governor of Rivers State, I will respond with a loud ‘Amen!’
Two things struck me from that visit. If the party structure was set up for Dr. Peterside, it means the decision to make Dr. Peterside the candidate was taken before the party structure was set up. So, what was the entire drama of 2015 about? Secondly, If you know that I cannot win the primaries, why not just keep quiet and allow me to fail honorably, if I decide to contest? Why come to my house to humiliate me before my family when I have not even taken a decision to contest?
He (Amaechi) was offended by my answer because he called another meeting, this time with my elder brother, Dr. Abe, who has always been like a father to both of us, in attendance along with my wife and stated the same position.
I still insisted that I would say ‘Amen’ anywhere anyone says I will be governor. So, Senator Uchendu knew about those meetings and he knew about Amaechi’s position. The meetings at The Dome (in Port Harcourt) was just a window dressing but I played along and I refused to talk about the private meetings for obvious reasons.
Senator Uchendu knew that the public spin about “wait, let us build the party first” is a false narrative set up to justify the campaign to stop Senator Abe by all means. I was not told to wait and build the party. Everyone knew that we were already building the party. I was told not to contest for Rivers governorship in 2019 long before the meeting at The Dome to which Senator Uchendu referred, was convened.
It is now clear that the decision to stop me was taken long ago. That is exactly what Governor Nyesom Wike warned me about when he came to my house prior to his decision to leave the group. What is happening in Rivers APC has nothing to do with building the party. It is all about stopping Senator Abe.
Senator Uchendu accused you of not supporting Amaechi’s struggle in 2007 during the K-leg era in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, before the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment of October 25, 2007, which sacked Sir Celestine Omehia, with Amaechi inaugurated as governor on October 26, 2007?
I first heard the story from a mutual friend of myself and the minister of transportation, as part of the reasons why the transportation minister is fighting so hard to stop me. So, it is not original to Senator Uchendu. In Uchendu’s own account, rather than giving instances of what I did against Amaechi, he gave two instances of events in support of Amaechi, which he claimed I participated in. To me, that is another issue that should be left in the hands of God. That is now a moot point. Most of those who were with Amaechi this month, celebrating his 2007 victory, were not there in 2007.
The day Amaechi left for Ghana, he formally called myself and the present governor, Nyesom Wike, and he told us he was leaving us in charge. The meeting Chief Uchendu referred to, I did not just attend, I led the delegation. Wike was not the only lawyer in our team and nobody asked Wike to go and liaise with lawyers. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, was hired by Sir (Dr.) Peter Odili (Rivers governor between 1999 and 2007). Wike took on that role, based on his conviction and commitment to the struggle. Nobody stopped Uchendu from doing the same thing. Dr. Sampson Parker, who is a medical doctor, was equally doing it. We should give people their due and not try to rewrite history every time we have a disagreement. Senator Uchendu attended meetings with Wike and myself in my house. He (Uchendu) attended meetings with Wike and myself in Dappa Addo’s house. We all went to Ghana together to see Amaechi, but today he (Uchendu) claims he did not see me until I became SSG.
There is always this attempt to play down on Wike’s contributions to our success in the court. Wike was pivotal to what happened in the court, just as I was to how we got the nomination. When Amaechi was in Ghana, he (Amaechi) was speaking with me more than five times everyday. At a stage, I was the only person in Odili’s government he was speaking with. When Amaechi came back from Ghana, immediately after he was sworn in as governor, he appointed Wike Chief of Staff and appointed me SSG. So, if Senator Uchendu felt that the then governor (Amaechi) in his wisdom, chose to appoint people who did not support his struggles to such strategic positions in his government, then too bad.
Senator Uchendu said you nominated Mr. Derek Mene, an Ogoni, who is not a qualified accountant, to be the Executive Director, Finance and Administration (EDFA) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Is it true?
This is the same Senator Uchendu, a national honours holder, who said there was no division in the APC in Rivers State, mischievously tearing his party man apart in the media. Mr. Mene was appointed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, screened and confirmed by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His certificates were inspected by all these institutions and he was found worthy and qualified. By stating on the pages of national newspapers that Mene is not a qualified accountant, what exactly is Senator Uchendu telling Nigerians about the judgments of the President who made this appointment and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of which he is part, that confirmed the appointment of the President?
Today, Mr. Mene is daily threatened and vilified by APC members like Senator Uchendu. Why? I will tell you.
The minister of transportation called Mr. Mene thrice and asked him to join and lead the campaign against Senator Abe in Ogoniland and Mr. Mene pleaded that such a campaign would be counter-productive and would destroy the party in the area. Mr. Mene was threatened with Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with dismissal and now with suspension for refusing to join in an unjust battle against a brother and fellow party man. Mr. Mene has been ordered to either keep out of Rivers politics or face his waterloo, while every other appointee from Rivers State is neck deep in Rivers politics. Why is the case of Mr. Mene different?
If Mr. Mene had joined in destroying Senator Abe, his certificates would be perfect. It is this kind of hypocrisy that makes Senator Uchendu’s brand of politics distasteful and childish. If I offer any apologies to an elder like Senator Uchendu, it is a reflection of my upbringing, it cannot be quoted as an endorsement of bad behaviour.
Again, on the appointment of the EDFA, the transportation minister had promised me after the general elections that in setting up the Federal Government, my interest would be placed above every other interest within the APC family in Rivers State, including his own. This promise was not conditional on my having no future ambition. It was a promise made to me based on an honest assessment of my contributions and support to the party in Rivers State. We must look to our conscience and live up our words.
On this whole issue of betrayal, after the decision of the then Governor Amaechi, which gave Dr. Peterside the governorship ticket of APC in Rivers State in 2014, the Rt. Hon. Amaechi met with Ogoni leaders, including King G.N.K. Gininwa, the President of MOSOP, the President of KAGOTE (Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme), political and religious leaders of Ogoni and told them that it was the turn of Ogoni, but that the reason the Ogoni people did not get the ticket was because they did not start the agitation on time. He (Amaechi) promised the Ogoni people that as they would be leaving the Government House, Port Harcourt, they should start their agitations and make noise to the highest heavens and that the next opportunity that would come for the governorship of Rivers State, he (Amaechi) would lead the Ogoni demand, because it is the right thing to do. So, what really is the issue today? Luckily, all those who attended the meeting are still alive.
Did the transportation minister sponsor your case at the tribunal?
Let me publicly thank Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi for paying the legal fees of our lead solicitors, Lateef Fagbemi & Co. Nothing in our present situation should imply that I am ungrateful, but Senator Uchendu should have realised that Lateef Fagbemi & Co., though the lead solicitors, were not the only solicitors representing the APC family in the tribunal and the Appeal Court cases. Myself, Hon. Chidi Wihioka, Hon. Barinadaa Mpigi and Hon. Maurice Pronen hired and are still paying the other solicitors that represented members of the APC family and we also made a lot of other expenses in the cause of that litigation, which benefited all APC litigants, including Senator Uchendu and others who were and remain at the forefront of the campaign to stop Senator Abe.
What of the allegation of your fraternising with Governor Nyesom Wike of PDP, who recently gave Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) to all the members of the National Assembly from Rivers State?
I laughed when I read that part of the interview. Senator Uchendu’s relationship with me changed dramatically when the transportation minister’s preference became obvious. For the records, when the face-off between Wike and the minister of transportation began, I refused, I pleaded with the transportation minister, who was then the governor of Rivers State, not to fight Wike, while we found a solution. The impasse continued until Wike met with me at the Presidential Villa in Abuja and told me not to bother, that he would never have anything to do with Amaechi anymore. I went back to Amaechi and I told him that it was over. Even when they were fighting, I continued to refer to Wike in public, as my brother. My problem with Wike was when he came into my senatorial district to viciously contest for my seat. The elections are over. Wike is the governor, I am the senator. If I see him, I must acknowledge him. There is no romance between me and Wike. Senator Uchendu can write to request a courtesy visit with the Rivers governor and meet with him, if Wike agrees to do so and that will not be romance, but if Senator Abe exchanged pleasantries with the same man (Wike) at a public event or joined a senate committee, of which I am a member, to pay a courtesy call on the Rivers governor, then that is romance. What do you call such duplicity?
Wike is a very smart politician and he can clearly see the division and the crisis in the APC, which Senator Uchendu cannot see. So, he (Wike) will do what he can to take advantage of it, in the hope that people like Senator Uchendu will not see it until it is too late.
Let me use this opportunity to reassure Rivers people that I understand the game and I understand my friends, whether they are in APC, PDP or even APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance). There is no enmity, but there will be no compromise on the future of Rivers State. You can take that to the bank.
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